interview with author
Viral Thread Busts The Myth About Famous Billionaires Starting Out "Poor" (Interview With Author)
Jeff Bezos and others had a huge leg-up when it came to helping lay the foundations of their business empires. Namely—having families with lots of money.
Viral Thread Busts The Myth About Famous Billionaires Starting Out "Poor" (Interview With Author)
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We all love stories about scrappy underdogs who overcome the odds and make it big through relentless hard work, unwavering grit, and sheer force of will. However, the stories about how some of the richest and most powerful people made their millions (and billions) are too romanticized and gloss over some very important details.

That’s the point that Aidan Smith made in a viral Twitter thread where he explained how Jeff Bezos and others had a huge leg-up when it came to helping lay the foundations of their business empires. Namely—having families with lots of money.

Aidan told Bored Panda that the US isn't the only country where a lot of people believe myths about businessmen while the truth is a Google search away. "It's far from a U.S.-exclusive phenomenon, but in America, it's easier for most people to imagine becoming a billionaire themselves than it is to imagine an economic order in which a handful of people own half the world's wealth. Social mobility from working-class to middle-class is increasingly out of reach and the illusion that one can conceivably amass a net worth of over a billion dollars is a comforting fantasy for many people." Scroll down for the rest of the interview.

Aidan told us that he has a decent-sized following and is used to his posts going moderately viral. "But I'm pleasantly surprised by how much of an impact this tweet in particular had."

According to him, believing that certain famous billionaires are self-made when they might not be is harmful for a variety of reasons. "For one, even in the rare cases in which people from working-class backgrounds amass exorbitant wealth, it's still not 'self-made' given that amassing wealth on that scale will always have come from ruthless exploitation of others."

While Bezos may have started Amazon in his parents’ garage when he was 30, people tend to focus on this part, not the fact that his parents invested 245,573 dollars in Amazon in 1995, nor that Bezos worked in Wall Street before committing to Amazon.

Bloomberg found that if Bezos’ parents kept all of their holdings in the company, their shares would have been worth around 30 billion dollars in 2018.

As of now, it’s unclear how much of the stock Jackie and Mike Bezos still own. They could secretly be among the world’s wealthiest 30 people (possibly even ahead of Elon Musk at the time).

Bezos and others might be successful, talented, dedicated, and not afraid to take risks (nobody is trying to diminish their accomplishments or effort) but they’re not entirely self-made.

Aidan’s thread definitely got the internet’s attention: it got more than 489k likes, nearly 150k retweets, and started a discussion.

Some people were surprised to learn some of the things that Aidan shared on Twitter. Others fully agreed with his message. Meanwhile, some Twitter users questioned why people are getting upset at people becoming successful, even if they did use their parents’ money. To which some internet users responded that fake underdog stories lead to poor people being told it’s their own fault for not becoming rich.

Comments (160)
Aria Whitaker
The point seems to have gone over some of the head of those responding. He is not saying that it is not smart to flip a quarter million into a billion, what he is saying is that people who really are "self made", who really came from "nothing" not have parents that can afford to give them hundreds of thousands of dollars!! They do not have parents that own homes with large garages to practice tinkering on computers or to house a start up...they do not have the huge leg-up that having access to those things gives you in life. Bezos, Zuckerburg, Warren, Gates....all were upper-middle class at the least...which, in America is worlds away from being lower on an entirely different planet. Pretending they were dirt poor with no help, imo, takes away from the success that they have achieved, albeit with lots of help.
Leo Domitrix
The comments fascinate me. "Of course parents lend their kids money to help them out." Uh... your parents have money to lend? OK, you're right there better off than most!
K Witmer
No one seems to see the point of this. This is about privilege. People assume if you're poor you don't work hard and if you're rich you must've worked hard and deserved it bc you're so much better than others. Getting help from your parents w large sums of money is not self made. It's not righteous and they're not better than a poor person working a hard job making minimum wage.
Oskar vanZandt
I am more concerned in the behaviour of these billionaires now, rather than the provenance of their 'humble beginnings': any parent in the position to help their child/ren succeed by a) giving them money to invest b) being the 'who you know' in networking c) providing money for a top university (or like the celebs who bribed colleges to accept their spawn)or d) WHATEVER would do. It's what they make of themselves as successful adults with a ridiculous amount of personal wealth that matters most.
I'm always amused about how poor people feel this uncontrollable urge to defend the rich people that systematically exploit them and keep them poor.
Tyler Hill
Bill Gates father is an attorney who guided bill through acquisitions and lawsuits defending him against some less than ethical business practices. Oh, his high school owned a $20,000 PDP-11 computer $132,000 in today’s money when mine didn’t have enough chalk.
Radek Suski
Not to mention that Bill Gates didn't even wrote the operating system he was hired for to write but bought it from a talented, unfortunately not very business developer for peanuts. Microsoft also didn't come up with the idea for windows. They stole the idea from Apple which stole the idea from Xerox. Remember xerox?
It's not just money, but also a parent's social connections and networking. If your parent has good connections, you already have a foot in the door. If your parents own or manage a company, you're already hired. Which is sad, because the apple doesn't always fall close to the tree.
Some people are so privileged they are blind to it. If your family can pay for your college, if they bought your first car, if they can help you out as an adult if you need money - you’re privileged. Just because you aren’t a millionaire doesn’t change that reality
Jerry Mathers
This story makes some great points about the myth of capitalism and American success. One thing I want to add is our way of handling healthcare makes it damn near impossible to do what these guys did without having wealthy benefactors to get you through your start up years. Unless you have both contacts in the business world and people wealthy enough to provide you with capital and healthcare, your chances of opening a successful business are slim. I also want to add that even with fastidious savings, the burden of healthcare will prevent most people from ever being able to start a business. And by the time you actually have the experience and contacts to have real chance of opening a business on your own, you have aged to where healthcare is a concern and you may have kids and others that depend on you. The risk of an illness and the responsibility that we have to our spouses and children is why most most of us will never have the chance to open a business of own.
The biggest step up for Zuckerberg was going to Harvard (even if he didn't graduate). The single best thing about going to an Ivy League College isn't the education, there are many state schools where you can get a great education.... it's the contacts you make there. A former startup CEO was a Harvard guy, he had contacts at the top of most industries and government. Bank dragging its feet on a line of credit? The bank's president was in his fraternity. Having trouble getting a work visa for a new hire? He'll call up the congressman he partied with at sprint break. For pretty much every situation, he had someone to call. He was a very successful CEO, and much of that came from the fact that he could get help for pretty much any business problem - the guy is a VC now, rumored to be worth almost a billion dollars... his parents were run of the mill millionaires.
Mark Zuckerberg's dad is a venture capitalist so it was real easy for FB to get investment money
Peter Bear
There's no such thing as a self-made billionaire. Every single one of them gets that way by abusing the people below them. Those obscene profit margins, which depend on the work of blue-collar workers, are the result of those workers being denied fair wages, health care, and anything else that would cost the company money. Millions of people work paycheck-to-paycheck, just so one person can sit on more money than they could spend in a lifetime, literally.
Yvette Desmarais
This is important because our society uses these examples against the truest poor, asking why they can't pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Money is often required to beget money. I have to have a little left over to be able to invest it so I can then afford to help my kid get to college or start her business. This doesn't even count the shitty stuff that happens if life: divorce, natural disasters, pandemics, financial crashes, that can put every penny you had at risk.
wet doge
Forgot that a lot of these guys are supported by their wives while they get to indulge their dreams and the wife works her ass off to pay the bills. Then he leaves her for a younger woman.
I hope it goes without saying, this is part of the "systemic racism" we keep hearing about. The US has extremely poor social mobility - rich people tend to get much better education & access to family wealth, without which it's very difficult to succeed in the US. And I'm not just talking about "filthy rich" wealth - simple things like being able to borrow your parents' car, being able to borrow money from parents rather than dropping out of school, etc. make a difference. Black people have only had one or two generations of equal(-ish) opportunity to build up wealth.
Familial connections and wealth can matter, and luck wears many other guises. E.g. Schwarzenegger has acknowledged that he was very lucky that there happened to be a shift in Hollywood in the '80s towards action flicks, right when he, a bodybuilder, was trying to become an actor. But success isn't reducible to luck or reducible to hard work or talent. It's combos of all of that; on NPR's How I Built This podcast, on each episode the host asks the creator of the success story (which the episode was about): 'Is your success from hard work, talent & smarts or just luck?' Mostly they say it's all of those things. Sara Blakely w/ Spanx: lucky that the first factory took a chance to make them, luckier still that Oprah plugged them! But to her credit: others have said they had the same idea, she took the initiative to try to make it a reality. Luck could happen b/c she had acted. Oprah COULD plug them b/c Blakely had manufactured them, had est.'d the business. Blakely also made a lot of good moves during her unlucky, uncertain, treacherous moments along the journey. That's how success stories often go.
David Cooper
If you have ever been to a third world country and witness extreme poverty you will understand why some people join criminal organizations. I'm not excusing the absolute horrific crimes committed by these groups, but if you are in survival mode and the cartel offers you $20,000 a week to transport drugs, I understand.
Stannous Flouride
Or, you could cheat to get into Wharton by paying someone else to take your SATs, have your rich father find a doctor to say you have bone spurs to keep from serving your country, borrow $1,000,000 from said father and manage to lose it in NYC real estate and borrow another $1,000,000, manage to brand 13 companies with your name, reap fees for that and run them all into the ground (including a casino and a pro football team- both of which are almost a license to print money) , declare bankruptcy 4 times so you can skip out on your debts, "write" 2 books that brag about screwing builders by putting off paying them until they finish then finding something to complain about and offering half, threaten Forbes magazine for not listing you as a billionaire while putting off showing proof until the magazines are printed and then using that listing to get Deutsche Bank to you loan you millions (while at the same time filing taxes on a MUCH smaller income).
Nailed it. Most moderate success is due to hard work, perseverance and sacrifice with good intelligence. But to be ultra rich you really do need to come from a wealthy family with connections.
K Witmer
I have privilege being from a middle class family. I'm definitely better off then my parents were. They also helped me a lot. They couldn't give half a million dollars though. If they could've done that I would've went to a university instead of community college and had much better connections and would've been able to buy a home or invested. That would've put us into upper middle class. You see how being born into privelege breeds privelge
Jo Choto
Most of the great wealth in the western world is inherited wealth that has been tossed around here and there and sometimes turns into greater wealth. The idea of someone starting with nothing and becoming a billionaire is a myth.
Dorothy Parker
Donald Trump never claimed to be poor, but he said turned one million into a fortune. In reality he turned $140 million into bankrupt hotels and schools.
Suzi Gauthier
The problem wasn't Bezos. The problem is Congress removing most regulations to prevent monopolies and corporations blatant buying politicians. This is short-sighted since the more money they stash overseas, the less money our citizens can spend to support their companies. Eventually, they will go broke too. Check out the essays of Richard Hanauer, the only original non-family investor in Amazon. He said you have to regulate corporations because if they do the right thing, investors will vote them out.
The mainstream media is left wing? Oh my ... how does one even get there? It may be less fucked up today, but if you read any newspaper in the late nineties, early 2Ks, it is obvious they were writing in favor of the then-preached neoliberalism, essentially saying that you take away the burdens of paying taxes from companies the state would likely bail-out if they failed, they would flourish - and still, people kept talking about how they took risks and were paying taxes, while none of it is true.
Solrac, you're an idiot and that comment didn't even make sense at all. How is she a "Karen" for speaking the truth? Just shut up.
Kathy Baylis
While somebody had to be the original, therefore genuine, rags to riches story, most started out ahead of the crowd, like the ones in the article. Their manufactured backstories always leave out the part about how much easier it is to hit a home run, like they did, when you get to start out on third base.
Drive Bee
Another facet to this that is worth pointing out is that everything is more expensive for the poor. Interest rates, loan terms, everything.
El Dee
This really divides people doesn't it? I just think that people should be presented honestly. If their parents started them off, fair enough - but SAY SO. It's not easy to become fabulously wealthy and honesty about how they have achieved it takes nothing away but does show that it is STILL difficult. As a side note - I worked as a buyer for IBM in the mid 80s (I feel old as dirt saying that lol!) and IBM could make or break companies whether they be small or large. I dealt with publications (getting the hand books printed) and we were the sole/largest customer for some businesses, the loss of our custom could have broke them..
Yet while Oprah gets a lot of recognition, she doesn't get the same recognition as Gates, Bezos or Zuckerburg, yet she truly is a self made billionaire that came from nothing. She had everything against her and yet rose above it all.
Toast Of Saint Louis
So, it sounds like what a fake rapper would do. You say you from the hood but you're actually a suburbanite?
Meyer Weinstock
No business developed after 1935 is ever self-made. (Yeah, argue with me about the year if you want, but I had to start somewhere.) Most of the infrastructure before 1945 was built as an aspect of getting America back on its feet from the Depression, and that was all tax-funded, even with some loans. Since then, although we decry the decay of our infrastructure, it has built in whole or in part from tax monies, or in more recent times, from larger private enterprises who benefited from earlier public build-up and/or used their tax-neutral status to invest in infrastructure for their own bottom line, and afforded other enterprises to develop and profit along the way. I haven't even begun to discuss the tax-neutral policies that make us a 3rd-world tax-haven, or the anti-labor laws that keep workers from ever improving their socio-economic status as we have been deluded in our historical rhetoric. No profitable private enterprise today ever, truly, has been self-made. -Rev Dr M, retiree
KT Pinto
Sounds like Aidan Smith has some sour grapes. I like how he just went with the last generation that got help from the family. Did their parents or grandparents just sit around and had money and power thrown at them? Generations of people worked to get to the point where a parent could help their child. And then the fact that that child became a billionaire. Oh how horrible! Aiden's green monster is rearing its ugly head. That's really the only point to these tweets.
Douglas Campbell
Now do Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
Vanta Black
Mark Zuckerberg stole Facebook from the Armie Hammer twins.
False narrative. They're not recognised for being self made people, they're commented about because they own huge companies that are in everyone's life and that have lots of imperfections. In fact, Microsoft faced several big antitrust processes, Facebook is facing a lot of backlash because of their handling of fake news and hate groups, and Amazon too is being looked at for their business practices. So, saying that these people are admired for being self made is false and their companies' histories show that in many cases the public's perception of them is aleady bad. In the case of Warren he's not followed for being a self made man but for his investment decisions. And by the way, saying that Amazon was founded in a garage is not the same as saying that Bezos is a self-made man.
I mean...I'm from a very privileged background and I couldn't do what those guys have done. I hope I'll be successful one day but I'll probably never reach the success my dad had, and he was a true rags to riches story. Born to an immigrant family of 10 worked his whole life, never had a hand up or a handout, started a successful company, and did well for himself.
Nobody becomes a billionaire honestly and on their own merit.
love how people are "it was just a small loan" a loan that only wealthy families can provide. They literally are making the point that NONE of these people would have done squat if their parents didn't have a cash to toss around. No one, NOT one person is saying those people weren't smart. It's a simple a to b to c scenario. A- they need the smarts, but MOST importantly, they NEVER would have gotten anywhere without B, mommy and daddy's money. Period. If your parents have 1/4 of a MILLION dollars to give you, you are already getting benefits 99% of the population does not have. And think about that. There are a ton of people in this world at A, and if they had an extra $250,000 dollars at the right point in their life they could be making $125,000 a year instead of $30,000. These are irrefutable facts. This world revolves around money. You can work harder than anyone else, be smarter than everyone else, but if you don't have the money and connections you still get nothing.
I cant believe none of you knew that mark zukerberg started Facebook by rubbing two sticks together in a bush he resided in on long island
Aimee Simmons
There are ways to make money that do not require your parents or other family members to lend you thousands of dollars. You have the option to always look for the reasons why things WON'T work for you, or you can look for the reasons that they CAN work for you. Don't be afraid to take chances. Don't let the scared people steal your dreams. It's important to step out and fail as many times as it takes to find the means to succeed. And for the love of all things Good, DON'T BE THE ASSHOLE THAT STEALS SOMEONE ELSES DREAM! That is all.
Jay Loren
The problem today is these young people believe it all happens instantly. Did Bezos/Gates get a boost from their parents? Yes. But look at the timeline....lower class immigrants start from nothing, work their way into middle class, their kids work their way into upper middle class, their kids work their way into upper's a progression built on generations. No one successful is 100% self made. How is this news to anyone?
T Mann
The rich are nothing but the poor with more money. They aren't smarter. They aren't more virtuous. And they should have no more say in how the word is run than someone with no wealth at all.
I recommend "Outliers" to those interested in this topic... basically this riffs on the ideas Malcome Gladwell wrote about people like Bill Gates
Craig Mossman
Me thinks we are reaching peak "let them eat cake"
Thomas Es Thomas
Wait. So Jeff Besos invented Amazon while living in the "Wonder Years" house? Wow. (Stock footage becomes funny when you recognize it)
It's not about judging him for taking a loan (who wouldn't??) For me, as someone who had a poor upbringing, who's always been on their own financially, this is something I learned very early on. "You have to have money to make money." I'm constantly reminded that I'm at a huge disadvantage and will either have to work far harder than those with wealthy parents/family or just settle for less/a mediocre life with extreme stress from not being able make ends meet. It's definitely a "life's not fair" complaint.It's just so hard to not feel incredibly depressed and/or deeply jealous watching those around me be handed things that I only dream of.
Jill Hermann
Bloomberg is the real rags to riches story which is why putting him up against Trump would have been awesome, and the fact that he gives billions to environmental groups.
Thank you for this article.
Graeme Glen
I notice that the argument that smart people tend to have smart children is absent. Smart people tend to make smart decisions that give them access to money. My point being GENETICS !! is a bigger part of this then we like to admit.
"right-wing mainstream media is an oxymoron"
Suggest watching PBS's Revenge of the Nerds.
Nathan Jones
What about Oprah? Pretty sure she came from nothing.
Goli Soda
I'm sure anyone who has had parents who served them 3 meals a day and treated kids with love and respect are much better off than kids who had to fend for themselves in abusive homes or had drug/alcohol addicted parents. What you do with your privilege matters. If there are people who took millions from their parents and turned it to billions, there are far more number of people who took millions from their parents and turned it to a big zero.....just not as newsworthy or famous.
Nia Loves Art
Who said that Bezos or any of these people started off poor? Even that picture of the garage taken at face value shows a very middle class home. The whole starting in the garage thing means starting small, not coming from poverty. Poor people generally don’t have garages. Also, being a self made billionaire means that you didn’t inherit the bulk of your wealth, but rather created a business that got you where you are. It doesn’t mean that you literally never received help from anyone.
Joel Blazquez Sargatal
Lots of jealous people. Also lots of people who have never been close to a tech startup. You burn 250K in no time. It may keep you afloat just for a little more and that is when you need to make the move and shine. That is what they did and where others have failed
Also Zuckerberg and Bezos...yes they got a push by their parent, but Mark's Father it's a dentist and Jeff's Father it's not a business man, they did not have the chance to work in the "Family business" they start from scratch with a push... different story like the Winklevoss Twins, they learn from the family business, invest the family money, get supported by family employees etc.. Mark, Buffette and Bezos are Self Made Billionaires!!!!!
Kylie Clawson
If everyone went through life alone we would all be poor, sad, and lonely. 86% of the purchases made by Americans are luxury goods. All I am saying is these people were smart enough to ask for resources with a legit plan to make more money. I think it's similar to a parent paying for their kid's college. How is that different in some of theses cases? The parents have the opportunity to invest in their child's future, why wouldn't they. Middle-class America pays the highest taxes, and we pay for the lifestyles of many other people involuntarily. This is America, you can climb and you can fall.
No.No.No.... Of course they are Self Made Billionaires!!!! if they have a "Push" by their parents, because they have that chance, that does not take away the merits to be self made!!! Warren Buffett is son of a politician, but he works in the stock market, he did not learn that from his parents, that means "Self made"
cjay smurphite
Hmm, Jeffs parents dropped him 200k, kinda turned that into a juggernaut, becoming the planets richest fucker. But sure let's get pissy that 99.9% of his wealth was self made.
Kylie Clawson
In my experience, people who are upset about other people's success are the very reason that they and people around them lack it. The crabs in a bucket mentality of people are toxic. If one climbs out then the rest pull them back in. Maybe if you tried to support people with ideas like many of these people had, you would be successful too. Think of the five people you spend the most time with. Who are they? Studies show you become the average of those people. When others know how to pick resources better than you, it just means they are aware of those people around them to get support they need. This isn't a far fetched concept.
Typical liberal wealth hatred. So sad.
Ben Hartman
Regarding Bezos and Amazon - so if I gave you $1.37 could you turn it into $1 million? Because that's whats the ratios are here
Ojberretta Berretta
most women who are millionaires or billionaires are rich because of divorce.....
Meme Mee
What difference does it make? Fact is bezos, gates, buffet, have made something of themselves. They have hired and paid a lot of people a lot of money over the years. People who have worked for them have been able to buy houses buy cars feed and clothe their families. They could've just sat back and lived off their parents inheritance.
Lauren Elise
Idk, I feel like it is normal for parents to loan money to their children. He had help, but that seems pretty normal. I mean, does it matter anyway? He's rich, we aren't. He had a good idea, and it ended up working.
So if had had gotten the loan from a bank, would that make everyone feel better about how he turned his idea into a trillion dollar industry that has created more than 840,000 jobs? Or will everyone still bitch about how municipalities offered tax breaks and land deals in order to bring some of those 840,000 to their areas and employ their citizens in more-than-minimum wage jobs?
Ben Smith
OP sounds like a spoiled brat. Who cares about the narrative? Your life is better because of these companies. It’s time people understood that life isn’t fair. It’s not meant to be, it never can be and it never will be. Everyone’s “oh shit” moment will come. Does blaming others help?
Aunt Messy
It's normal and ordinary for parents to help their kids start businesses. It happens all the time. It's ALWAYS happened all the time. A quarter of a million dollars is NOT a lot of money - and it was a LOAN. He paid his parents back. ....///... This kind of bitter whining makes you look stupid. They could help their kids, they did, and that's just the way it is.
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